BOSTON (CN) — The coronavirus crisis has ripped the lid off underlying American social problems and made clear why progressive policies are necessary, Senator Bernie Sanders and four of his guests claimed in a livestream Monday night.
As with Hurricane Katrina, “you get certain moments when the veil is lifted and you see the rot in society,” said Cornel West, an activist professor and hip-hop musician.
Sanders, who is still in the running to be the Democratic presidential nominee, called for a government guarantee that all workers in the U.S. get their full salary and benefits for the duration of the crisis even if they lose their jobs. “There is no conflict” between protecting people’s health and protecting the economy, he insisted, as long as the government makes sure that no Americans lose their income.
“When companies are able to operate again, they’ll have their workforce intact,” he said.
Sanders also renewed his call for free health care and paid sick leave. But the main theme of the event was that the coronavirus crisis is the fault of unfettered capitalism.
Sonia Shah, a journalist who wrote a book about pandemics, argued that problems like the virus are the result of reliance on fossil fuels and a lack of environmental regulation.
More than 40% of pathogens come from wild animals, she said. “If you cut down a forest, the animals don’t just disappear, they come and live in your backyard,” which means that urban sprawl “is building a highway for these microbes.”
Giant factory farms are another problem because they increase the prevalence of avian flu, she claimed.
“We need to protect wildlife habitats,” she said. “We need to transition away from fossil fuels. We need to reduce our footprint on the planet.”
The Rev. William Barber, an NAACP board member, blamed the coronavirus crisis on poverty: “If you don’t take care of the poor, you leave open fissures that let the virus in.”
Barber said the U.S. had the worst coronavirus response in the world and that people of color and immigrants were the ones who were most harmed by it. He claimed that the recent stimulus package included $1.5 trillion for Wall Street. was bad for the economy and would cause more death because it wasn’t designed to be “bottom-up.”
According to Barber, even before the pandemic, 43% of Americans were poor or low-wealth and 700 people a day died of poverty. He complained that the stimulus bill merely delayed evictions and didn’t eliminate them altogether: “If you don’t have a home to stay in, how do you stay home?”
“We can’t go back to normal. Normal is what got us into this damn place,” he said. He proposed that America “put the military budget into the hands of public health officials.”
West said the virus had made obvious the greed and corruption of American leaders that is normally hidden by “the charade and masquerade promulgated by journalists” interested in “short-term titillation,” including the “milquetoast liberal media like MSNBC.”
He also blamed higher education for training people to think in terms of a tradeoff between saving lives and saving the economy and said the U.S health care system is racially discriminatory and a “legacy of white supremacy.”
Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., decried “predatory capitalism where the vultures on Wall Street are just picking people off.” He bragged that he had insisted that the stimulus bill guarantee full salary and benefits for two million airline workers through September even if they can’t work.
“This should be the model for all workers in America,” Sanders said.
Sanders decried “an unprecedented level of income inequality and a very, very weak primary care system” where “in the richest country in the world, we don’t have 50-cent masks.” He said President Trump should make broad use of the Defense Production Act for ventilators, masks, gowns and gloves.
“You have a president of the United States spouting out stuff that has nothing to do with reality,” he said.
“This terrible crisis obliges us … to think really big about how we got to where we are,” Sanders concluded. “I hope out of this terrible tragedy we do some serious thinking about our priorities and our morals, and if we do then something good will come out of all this suffering.”